Bio: As the world’s greatest living rock ‘n’ roll star, Bruce Springsteen has unconsciously proved former Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau totally correct. Landau appeared smug and brave when he made the arrogant statement in 1974, ‘I saw rock ‘n’ roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen’.
Prior to that, Springsteen had paid his dues, playing in local bands around New Jersey, notably with the Castiles, Earth, Steel Mill and Dr Zoom And The Sonic Boom, before he settled as the Bruce Springsteen Band with David Sancious (b. 30 November 1953, Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA; keyboards), Gary Tallent (b. 27 October 1949, Detroit, Michigan, USA; bass), Clarence Clemons (b. 11 January 1942, Norfolk, Virginia, USA; saxophone/vocals), Danny Federici (b. Daniel Paul Federici, 23 January 1950, New Jersey USA, d. 17 April 2008, New York, USA; keyboards) and Vini Lopez (drums), with Steven Van Zandt (b. Steven Lento, 22 November 1950, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; guitar) an occasional member. Following an introduction to CBS Records A&R legend John Hammond, Springsteen was signed as a solo artist; the company sensed a future Bob Dylan. Springsteen ignored their plans and set about recording his debut with the band, Greetings From Asbury Park N.J. This 1973 release sold poorly, although critics in the USA and UK saw its potential. The follow-up only 10 months later was a much stronger collection, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. Future classics were on this similarly low-selling album, including ‘Rosalita’ and ‘Incident On 57th Street’. It also featured the beautiful ‘Asbury Park Fourth Of July (Sandy)’, later recorded by the Hollies.
Springsteen’s musicians were re-named the E Street Band after his second album’s release. Line-up changes saw the introduction of Roy Bittan (b. 2 July 1949, Rockaway Beach, New York, USA; keyboards) and Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter (drums) to replace Sancious and Lopez, although Carter was soon replaced by Max Weinberg (b. 13 April 1951, Newark, New Jersey, USA). Van Zandt, meanwhile, was made a permanent member. During the following May, Landau saw the band and made his now famous statement. He eventually became Springsteen’s record producer and manager. During this time, the first two albums began to sell steadily, following a heavy schedule of concerts, as word got out to the public that here was something special. Springsteen wrote directly to his fans in a language which they understood. Here was a working class American, writing passionately about his job, his car/bike, his girlfriend and his home-town. Born To Run was released in 1975 and immediately put Springsteen into rock’s first division. This superb album contained a wealth of lyrical frustration, anger and hope, themes brilliantly encapsulated on the striking opening track ‘Thunder Road’. The playing was faultless and the quality of the songs was among his best. Critics and fans loved it, and the album was a significant hit on both sides of the Atlantic, while the driving title track provided the singer with his first US Top 30 hit.
During the accompanying tour Springsteen collected rave reviews and appeared as cover feature in both Newsweek and Time. Throughout his European tour the UK press was similar in their praise and exhaustive coverage, which led to a backlash of Bruce Springsteen jokes. Springsteen’s recording career was then held up for three years as he and Landau entered into litigation with Mike Appel, with whom Springsteen had struck a management contract in 1972. Other artists kept the torch burning brightly, with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band releasing a sparkling version of his song ‘Blinded By The Light’ and Patti Smith recording a definitive version of his ‘Because The Night’. Other artists like ex-Hollies singer Allan Clarke, Robert Gordon, and the Pointer Sisters recorded his material. With the lawsuits successfully completed the eagerly awaited Darkness On The Edge Of Town arrived in 1978. The album reflected the legal problems which beset Springsteen in the mid-70s and in contrast to Born To Run was a moody, claustrophobic album, yet over 30 years later it still stands as a great work. The show-stopping ‘Badlands’ and ‘The Promised Land’ were two of the album’s masterpieces.
From the moment Darkness On The Edge Of Town was released in June, Springsteen and the band embarked on a gruelling tour which took them into 1979. On his 30th birthday he played at the historic MUSE concert; the subsequent No Nukes album and video captured a vintage Springsteen performance of high-energy and humour. After feigning collapse onstage, he cheekily got the audience to beg for an encore having previously pointed out to them that he could not carry on like this as he is 30 years old! The audience loved the banter and together with the great Clarence Clemons, he roared into an encore of ‘Rosalita’. The next months were spent recording the double-set The River, which received almost as much praise as Born To Run and provided the artist with his first US chart-topper. All shades of Springsteen were on offer; the album was brooding, depressing, pensive, uplifting, exciting and celebratory. In 20 songs, Springsteen covered every aspect of both his and the listener’s life. It was hard to pick out any single standout tracks, but the US Top 5 hit ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Fade Away’, ‘Independence Day’ and the brooding title track have remained perennial favourites.
The following year Springsteen toured Europe again, and helped to resurrect Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds’ career by producing and writing some of his comeback album Dedication. ‘This Little Girl’ is one of Springsteen’s finest songs and Bonds found himself back in the charts after almost 20 years absence. Springsteen’s next move was to release Nebraska (1982), a stark acoustic set which was recorded solo directly onto a cassette recorder. It is raw Springsteen, uncompromising and sometimes painful; Bruce without his clothes on. At one point on the album he imitates a wolf cry, but to many it was a genuine howl, that struck terror when turned up loudly.
After a further lengthy wait for a new album, Born In The USA arrived in 1984. As is often the case, the album that is the most commercially accessible, bestselling and longest resident in the charts, is not always the artist’s best work. The transatlantic chart-topper Born In The USA was a prime example. Selling over 15 million copies, it stayed in the UK charts for two-and-a-half years, in the country of origin it stayed even longer. Numerous hit singles were released including the oft misinterpreted title track, ‘Dancing In The Dark’ (Springsteen’s most pop-orientated release), ‘Cover Me’, ‘I’m On Fire’, ‘Glory Days’, ‘I’m Goin’ Down’, and ‘My Hometown’. During one bout of Springsteen-mania on his 1985 European tour, all seven albums to date were in the UK charts. That year also saw him marry actress Julianne Phillips, and support political and social issues. He participated in the USA For Africa’s ‘We Are The World’ and joined former E. Street Band member Steven Van Zandt aka Little Steven (who had been replaced by Nils Lofgren the previous year) on the Artists United Against Apartheid song ‘Sun City’. In festive style his perennial ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ topped the US charts and made the UK Top 10 in December.
Alongside Bob Dylan, Springsteen is the most bootlegged artist in history. In order to stem the flow he released a five-album box set at the end of 1986. The superbly recorded but overlong Live 1975-1985 entered the US charts at number 1 and generated two Top 10 hits, a cover version of the Motown classic ‘War’ and his own ‘Fire’. The following year Tunnel Of Love was released; the advance orders took the album to number 1 on the day of release in the UK and USA. It was another exceptionally strong work, an intensely personal examination of the fallout from a failed love affair (strongly rumoured to refer to Springsteen and Phillips). ‘Brilliant Disguise’, ‘One Step Up’ and the title track were all major US hits. Springsteen followed the album with another major tour. After months of speculation and paparazzi intrusions, Springsteen’s affair with his back-up singer Patti Scialfa (b. Vivienne Patricia Scialfa, 29 July 1953, Deal, New Jersey, USA) was confirmed, with his wife filing for divorce (granted in 1989). He married Scialfa in 1991 and the couple subsequently settled down and raised three children.
Springsteen continued to show his political stripes by supporting the Human Rights Now tour for Amnesty International in 1988. During the late 80s he performed numerous low-key gigs in bars and clubs and occasional worthy causes as well as his own Tunnel Of Love tour. Springsteen’s successful European tour was clouded by the continuing obsession with his personal relationships. In 1989, he recorded ‘Viva Las Vegas’ as part of a benefit album, and reached the age of 40. In the same year, the E. Street Band disintegrated following the singer’s suggestion.
During the early 90s the press followed Springsteen’s every move, anxiously awaiting signs of action as he continued to enjoy life, occasionally appearing with other famous musicians. It is a testament to Springsteen’s standing that he maintained his position, having released only eight albums of new material in almost 20 years. In 1992, he issued two albums simultaneously: Human Touch (a UK chart-topper) and Lucky Town. Both scaled the charts in predictable fashion as fans and critics welcomed him back, although not with quite the fervour of the past. The only notable hit to be drawn from the albums was the brooding double a-side ‘Human Touch’/‘Better Days’. Springsteen enjoyed more success with ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’, the emotionally charged title track for the 1994 movie Philadelphia; the song later won an Academy Award and four Grammy Awards. It also returned the singer to the US Top 10 and provided him with his biggest UK hit, reaching number 2 in the spring of 1994.
In 1995, it was reported that Springsteen was working with the E Street Band again. The same year’s Greatest Hits provided him with his fifth US chart-topper and fourth UK number 1 album, and included two new tracks and two previously unreleased oldies. As a complete about turn, 1995’s The Ghost Of Tom Joad was a solo acoustic album. The album was warm and mellow, in direct contrast to the stark and hollow power of its nearest relative in the singer’s catalogue, Nebraska. Sounding a lot like Woody Guthrie, Springsteen had become ol’ grandpappy, telling stories of Vietnam, prison life and lost love. He no longer sounded angry or energetic; merely philosophical. It was one of his strongest albums in years, yet one of his least commercially successful.
In 1998, Springsteen successfully fought a lawsuit to stop a UK company issuing some early material. This media item coincided with the release of a surprisingly good box set, containing 66 unreleased tracks. Normally, the original reluctance to release such material is well-founded on the basis of, if it was not good enough then, why bother now. This set bucked the trend and was highly praised. It has already become one of the most important releases of his career. The following year Springsteen embarked on a rapturously well-received world tour with the rejuvenated E Street Band. In June 2000, he unveiled a new song, ‘American Skin’, at a performance at Madison Square Garden. A scathing comment on the police shooting of the unarmed Bronx resident Amadou Diallo, the song prompted calls by the NYPD for a boycott of the singer’s concerts and was later included on the tour souvenir, Live In New York City.
Springsteen and the E Street Band then reunited to record their first new studio set since 1984. The Rising, released in July 2002, was inspired by the terrorist attacks of 11 September the previous year, with many of the songs written from the perspective of working people whose lives were irrevocably changed by the day’s events. It was a formidable album with powerful, anthemic arrangements. Springsteen’s resurgence was rewarded the following February when he took home three Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album.
In October 2004, Springsteen embarked on the Vote For Change Tour, joining acts such as R.E.M. , Pearl Jam and the Dixie Chicks in a series of shows intended to influence voters to remove President George W. Bush from the White House. He also joined Democratic candidate John Kerry at a number of rallies. The following year the singer released his new studio album, Devils & Dust. This largely acoustic collection was recorded without the E Street Band and featured a number of songs dating back almost 10 years. The album’s anti-war and anti-corporate sentiments rattled a number of cages in his native country, although this did not stop the artist registering yet another US chart-topper. The solo tour in support of the album saw Springsteen performing material on piano and pump organ.
Springsteen’s next move was to record an album of songs popularized by folk musician Pete Seeger. Recorded in only three days with a large band of previously unheard of musicians, alongside regular collaborators Scialfa, Soozie Tyrell and the Miami Horns, the album was a gloriously low-key affirmation of Springsteen’s continuing vitality and creative spark. The album was reissued at the end of the year with five bonus tracks, including a cracking version of Blind Alfred Reed’s ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’. The attendant tour was very popular in Europe but less so in the singer’s homeland. A live recording of the band’s show at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Eire, was released in 2007. Shortly afterwards, Springsteen and the E. Street Band reunited to record a new studio album. Magic marked a return to a more direct rock sound that undoubtedly helped propel the album to the top of the US charts. Beneath the musical bluster, however, were lyrics that recalled the knocked about disillusionment of Darkness On The Edge Of Town and The River, and the end result was an album that grew in complexity with each listen.
Bruce Springsteen "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
Learn more about this artist's Christmas hits by clicking on the song titles below.